Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 5 News List

US and Chinese navies conduct joint exercise

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

The US Navy reached a modest but noteworthy milestone this week when it conducted an exercise with a Chinese ship off the coast of southern California, the top US commander for the Pacific region said on Friday.

The exercise, conducted on Wednesday, was the first in which ships from the two navies have worked directly with each other in a search and rescue training session.

In the operation, the crews of a US ship and a Chinese ship practiced how to save a third ship from fire and flooding while evacuating casualties.

The regional commander, Admiral William Fallon, cast the exercise as a step toward a deeper relationship he hopes to foster between the militaries.

The admiral has visited China three times and said he achieved a minor breakthrough in May when the Chinese allowed him to sit in the cockpit of China's advanced FB-7 warplane.

"Frankly, from the military side we have not been very engaged with these folks in the last five years," Fallon told a group of reporters. "We are attempting to build a new relationship to try to establish a foundation and ... some level of trust."

But the US government has never been of one mind on the value of military exchanges with Beijing.

The heads of the US Pacific Command have favored establishing a channel of communication with their Chinese counterparts, figuring it would enable them to dispel misperceptions about US intentions and defuse the sort of crisis that erupted in 2001 when a Chinese fighter and a US reconnaissance plane collided off the coast of China.

But some Bush administration civilians and advisers have been far more skeptical, calculating that the principal Chinese interest is to glean what they can about US military technology and operations while withholding useful information about their own activities and budgets.

Fallon alluded to those differences.

"It isn't a clone of the Soviet Union," he said, referring to China. "However, there are institutions of our government that seem to act in a manner that has just transferred whatever we thought the Soviet Union was, and we have moved it into China and we kind of do things in the same manner, which I think is incorrect."

In the Wednesday exercise, the crew of the US destroyer Shoup worked with the crew of the Chinese destroyer Qingdao. The Swamp Fox, a torpedo recovery vessel, played the role of the ship in distress. The Qingdao and the Hongzehu, a Chinese oiler, visited San Diego as part of the exchange.

The exercise is to be followed by a more complex search and rescue exercise off the coast of China, Fallon said.

But there is a long way to go to build stronger ties. Among other things, US and Chinese officials have never drafted procedures on avoiding military incidents like the one that took place in 2001.

Congress has also imposed restrictions on the scope of the exchanges, forbidding contacts that would enhance the Chinese military's combat, logistical or surveillance capabilities.

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